Agility in Mind and Technologies

Monday, 18/05/2015 Posted by: Annabel Irvin

“To meet the demands and challenges of the 21st Century requires agility in educator’s minds, agile technologies, agility in student’s minds and agile learning environments”.
“Shifting Minds Report” – C21 Canada Summit: February 15 2012
Kingbridge Convention Centre, Toronto, Ontario

Agile teachers with flexible mindsets and agile ubiquitous technologies are essential within today’s learning culture in order to promote continuous learning with a clear purpose and connection to the real world for students. This objective is at the forefront of all coursework within the Technologies Department.

The ‘Technologies’ curriculum at Stuartholme School includes digital technologies and design and technology. Digital technologies is comprised of elements of; computer science, building client solutions, computer programming, information technology, robotics, animation and other multimedia aspects. Conversely, design and technologies incorporates; textiles, food technology and home economics. Teaching strategies within these subjects include open-inquiry learning and problem-based computational thinking. The project-based learning approach stimulates critical thinking, collaboration, and decision-making processes and focuses on student-centred learning with authentic tasks.

All year 7 and 8 students study design and technologies and digital technologies. Year 9 and 10 students have the opportunity of selecting two electives: design and technologies, which incorporates textiles and food technology; and / or digital technology (Interactive Multimedia) which incorporates elements of computer science, computer code programming, robotics, game design, and multimedia. Year 11 and 12 students can continue understanding and acquiring skills by selecting the OP subject, Information Technology Systems as they have the opportunity to respond to a broad range of complex technological challenges. “Our students are seekers of knowledge rather than receivers of information” by offering a coursework framework of skills and thinking that can be built into lessons and learning experiences that are rich in creativity and technology (Mishra et al, 2012; Brown, 2009).

There are many benefits studying in the Technologies Department including learning the art of time management, an increase in decision-making and organisational skills, engaging with other learners, and encouraging independent learning where the students can manage their own learning. Most importantly, students face challenges in inquiry and problem-based computational thinking. In response to the need to improve problem-solving skills, innovations in teaching methods such as problem-based learning (Perrenet et al. 2000, Du et al. 2009, Gomez-Ruiz et al. 2009) and cooperative learning (Heller et al. 1992, Mourtos 1997) have been successfully deployed by many universities and have shown promising results.

Problem solving is fundamental to education because educators are interested in improving students’ ability to solve problems. If we agree to read “problem” in a broad sense then problem solving may be regarded as one of the most common and important human activities. Throughout our lifetime, we are continually identifying problems and attempting to solve them.

Technology offers an approach to problem solving that differs from the typical routes that are learnt in English and maths based subjects. However, all these aspects of problem solving are complimented and corroborated by each other to produce a well-rounded mind. In a malleable and progressively computer based world, students will learn skills to help with, not only, proficiency but also excellence in their knowledge and skills. High school technology is a chance to invest in a student’s future within our contemporary world.

Problem solving can be frustrating but inevitably rewarding, progressive and essential. Most problems can be solved easily by approaching them systematically. Underpinning all Technologies subjects are the design, development and evaluation of problem solving cycle (DDE cycle). The DDE problem solving cycle is based on the ADDIE model (Danks, 2011). Based on the model by the mathematician, George Polya, the ‘four problem solving process’.

The four steps are:
1. Define the problem where the student can formulate briefly, but clearly, just what the problem is. It may be more efficient to redefine the problem in more general terms to make its solution more adaptable to future applications. Refinement can be a subsequent step.
2. Devise a plan after ensuring the student understands, and is clear about, what sort of problem it is; for example, ‘can a probable solution be induced?’, ‘Is it solvable by computer?’, or ‘Can others help the student with the problem?’ then it is advisable to divide the plan into sub-plans. This method of dealing with the problem individually is often called ‘divide and conquer’ strategy. It may help to work backwards from the answer using ‘sub goals’ to the original idea. This ‘backward chaining’ approach is also useful in testing to see if a hypothesized answer is actually correct. In some cases, a ‘systematic trial and error’ technique may be useful. Diagrams may be utilised wherever it is most helpful for the student. If you can not get started, write down any thoughts you may have in any order (brainstorming) and then see if you can bring these together. If the student is still having a lot of trouble devising a plan than restate the problem in a different way and the student can form new or more helpful pathways to approach their problem-solving skills.
3. Carrying out the plan will come easy to the student if a lot of time and attention has been paid to the first two steps. If the plan is divided into sub-plans then check each step.
4. Look back and revise over the solution. ‘Does the solution make sense?’, ‘Can the solution be tested?’, or ‘Can the solution be used to help solve other problems?’. In some cases, consideration of questions, such as these, will lead to reformulation of the problem or the plan, and the problem solving process will circularly continue.

Although, many problems in life may be solved algorithmically, there remain a large number of tasks for which no algorithm can be formulated. For example, how to pick the winner or a race!

In today’s age of information, success hinges on the successful application of knowledge to solve problems and create new ideas and information. Having students work together to achieve a goal helps them recognise the value of the contributions and perspectives of all team members and prepares them for life in the 21st century.

By Leigh Ferguson
Leader of Learning – Technologies

Brown, T. (2009). Change by design. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Danks, S. (2011). The ADDIE Model: Designing, Evaluating Instructional Coach Effectiveness. American Society of Quality , 4 (5).
Du, S., de Graff, E., & Kolmos, A. (2009). Research on PBL practice in engineering education. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense.
Gomez-Ruiz, S., Perez-Quintanilla, D., & Sierra, I. (2009). Problem-based learning: an approach to chemical engineering education within the EHEA. Retrieved March 13, 2015, from Technology education and development:
Heller, P., Keith, R., & Anderson, S. (1992). Teaching problem solving through cooperative grouping. Part 1: group versus individual problem solving. American Journal of Physics , 60 (7), 627-636.
Mishra, P., Henriksen, D., & The Deep-Play Research Group. (2012). Rethinking technology and creativity in the twenty-first century: On being in-disciplined (Vol. 56). TechTrends.
Mourtos, N. J. (1997). The nuts and bolts of cooperative learning in engineering. Journal of Engineering Education , 86 (1), 35-37.
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Polya, G. (1957). How to solve it. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.